Chinese sculptor, painter, photographer, and video artist Lei Xue often explores the innate tension between past tradition and modernity in his diverse body of work. One series that illustrates this interest in the relationship between the old and the new is Drinking Tea, a creative and comical collection of can sculptures.
Each sculpture has been crafted by Xue to resemble a discarded, crumpled can. Made out of white porcelain and featuring painted blue patterns and motifs, the pieces are clearly inspired by Ming Dynasty wares, putting a clever, contemporary twist on traditional ceramics.
Like his aesthetic approach, Xue’s choice of subject matter—drinking vessels—is also rooted in history. According to Gallery Martina Deterrer, “the human need for drinking manifests itself in the external form of the cans as well as in their design. It is timeless and endures the entire history of mankind.” He compares our consumption of canned drinks to the taking of tea during the Ming Dynasty, noting similarities between the quickness with which we drink and the disregard we have for the vessels themselves.
In addition to the style and historical context of Drinking Tea, the process behind the porcelain cans also communicates Xue’s views on the past and present. Unlike real cans, the reinterpreted pieces were not mass produced or manufactured in a factory. They were sculpted and painted entirely by hand, a practice near and dear to the artist. You can see more of his stunning handmade sculptures on Artsy, as well as the Gallery Martina Deterrer website.